Lyon - Among the legion of South Africans
plying their trade in the French Top 14, Johan Goosen has come to the fore with
perfect timing to give a welcome reminder to Springbok selectors.
Goosen, capped six times by South Africa
and still only 23 years old, has thrived this season for Racing 92, his
capacity to play across the backline helping in no small part to push the
Parisian club towards Saturday's European Champions Cup final against Saracens.
When the South African arrived at Racing
for the 2014-15 season, he played second fiddle to now-departed Ireland No 10
Jonathan Sexton and incumbent full-back Brice Dulin.
With New Zealand's World Player of the Year
Dan Carter and France international playmaker Remi Tales also on their books,
and with injuries to the preferred midfield line-ups, Goosen has been pressed
into service in the outside centre position.
And the former Cheetah, who recently
extended his Racing contract to 2020, has thrived.
"I think I have changed but the main
thing is that last season I didn't play a lot, but this season I've played a
lot more," Goosen said.
"The team is doing really well at the
moment, and if the team is doing really well, everyone's playing well and it's
Goosen, who made his Springbok debut in
2012 at the age of 20, added: "I'll play in any position as long as it
benefits the team.
"I don't think I've changed my mind
really. I'm playing more so it's good for me and I can build on that every
week. Last season I played one week on, one or two weeks off and it was
difficult to build momentum.
"I would love to play 10, but at the
moment I really love playing centre. This is my first time to play 13, I played
12 once when I was young."
The Top 14 is not a league for shrinking
violets, and Goosen, who outplayed Manu Tuilagi in the semi-final win over
Leicester, acknowledged that defence was tough, even with his 1.85m, 89kg build.
"Defence is difficult, I'm still
learning, but playing alongside Alex (Dumoulin), Joe (Rokocoko), Juan (Imhoff)
and Dan, they make it easy for me, they're always helping me," the
Burgersdorp-born back said.
"I'm not the biggest guy, but 12 or
13, no problem. You're going to play against big guys, but as long as you focus
on your job, you'll do ok."
Although Goosen struggles with the French
language, he said he was beginning to understand a lot more.
"I've tried to learn the language, but
it's still difficult for me. I can understand the coaches, it makes it easier
to communicate," said the South African, whose wife recently gave birth to
a baby in Paris.
Racing are enjoying a spectacular season,
having trumped three-time winners Toulon in the European Cup quarter-finals and
also sitting fourth in the Top 14 virtually assured a place in the
"They guys believe in the coaches and
the way they want to play, and Dan plays a huge role in that," Goosen said
of All Black legend Carter, who has been in his usual imperious form steering
the capital club around the paddock.
"We just gel as a team and we're
really good friends, like a bunch of brothers playing for each other.
"There's a great vibe and everyone
respects everyone. There's a lot of good players here and you have to perform
to keep your spot in the team and that's why when we train it's at 100
Goosen admitted he was wary of Saracens,
who boast a host of internationals and are an easy match for any team in
"They've got a really good forward
pack and really good backline as well. Owen Farrell is a very good player,
they've got two very good centres and their wings and fullback are
world-class," he said.
"It's a final game where the best team
wins, but I'm looking forward to it. There are a few South Africans in there so
we'll have a good beer afterwards!"